Boys Write Girls

I have many peeves. Some of them are pretty feral, only turning up when the breeze is right or I’m cooking something tasty. Some of them are reliable acquaintances, peeves to wave to and acknowledge when they come up. Some of them, though, are near and dear. Whenever they come to mind I dwell upon them. I coddle them and nurse the bitterness deep in my black heart, because I believe it does the world some good. You could call these pet peeves, perhaps.

So here’s the thing. Male authors writing female characters. I have worked out a grading standard. It is as follows. (These grades apply only to the quality and treatment of female characters, not the overall quality of the books.)

Some dudethors write female characters as characters. They have the same strengths and weaknesses portfolios one would expect male characters to have. They may be very aware of their femininity, may use it to their advantage, embrace or revile it, but they’re just people. Male authors who manage this (e.g., George R.R. Martin, A. Lee Martinez) get an A.

Some guy authors have issues of a small sort. Say, they can write perfectly good female characters, as long as that female is not intended to be sexually attractive. Christopher Moore, bless his evil soul, does this all the time. His female characters are fantastic, unless they are romantically available to the male lead, between eighteen and forty-five, and physically attractive. Hell, he even writes this woman well. It’s just that it’s the same damn character every time. She’s been the biblical Mary Magdalene and King Lear’s Cordelia, never mind a plethora of tough, cute waitresses. Or let’s go back to childhood and try Redwall on for size. The female heroes were great, every bit as violent and cocky and oddly wise as their male counterparts. They were just outnumbered about five to one. Let’s hear it for the guys who can do it, and just, well, don’t, sometimes. B.

There are female characters who are intended to be good characters, but are too busy being FEMALE to manage. Early Moorcock suffers from this. Rose is very nice and all, I’m sure, somewhere back behind “I am an action girl grar!” And while I’m giving greats in the field a technical pass, let’s just go ahead and bring in Tolkien. You all know what I mean. C for effort, guys.

And then there’s the prop girl. She’s there, because the male lead needs a love interest, and someone to save, and there should be a girl around, probably. I think this grade can be pretty handily summed up as Edgar Rice Burroughs. If you’re a genre reader who spends time with the classics, you’re familiar with Girly McBoobage. But you know what? They know their limitations. It’s hard to say (sometimes) whether they just consider female characters beneath them, are just oblivious, or are aware of what they can’t handle, but those characters get a D. Because there’s worse.

How to get a failing grade, for the male author of a female character. Write a real D-worthy lady. Maybe a C if you’re feeling up to it. Make her attractive and appropriately worshipful of her masculine love interest. Go ahead. Make her blond.

Then make her your mouthpiece. Use her to explain all about how Women Really Work. We all want to read it. I’m thinking of a few specifics, certainly, of the Sword of Truth Objectivist wankery, of the Left Behind books so expertly dissected, of the unending embarrassment to all things geek that is… Gor… (I’m taking a moment to make my ew face.)

Do that. I dare you. I won’t find you and beat you with your own book. I promise.


One response to “Boys Write Girls

  1. Where would you put Lloyd Alexander? I feel like he wrote his female characters really well — except for the fact that they’re all much of a muchness. Is that B? Usually she’s only obliquely a love interest, if at all.

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